A company involved in the protection of call centre headset users from acoustic shock injury is warning that thousands of call centre staff are at risk unless their employers take action to deal with the growing problem. Already out of court settlements total more than £10 million and the claim base is increasing. The problem is growing, says CIS/Nomadtrack, because Personal Computer (PC) based headsets for use with IP (Internet Protocol) voice packages do not even offer the basic levels of protection afforded by standard call centre telephony headsets.
Acoustic shock occurs when loud, unannounced sounds travel through the telephone line or the web interface quickly (under 16 milliseconds). They have a range of harmful effects including pain, tinnitus, hyperacusis and dysacusis. Unless employers take steps to eliminate these problems, staff can become anxious about their exposure to acoustic shock, particularly if they have been on the receiving end of an unexpected and serious event. Single claims for compensation can be as much as £20,000.
Paul Jenkins, Managing Director of Nomadtrack and an expert in acoustic shock, says that employers should act now, both to avoid causing damage to their employees and their businesses’ bottom lines. “The growth in IP voice services is expected to increase occurrences of acoustic shock” he explains. “In call centres and the emergency services this phenomena is already well recognised and being addressed, but IP presents a new challenge which must be addressed.”
CIS/Nomadtrack’s further concern is that over five million people who are online with Skype at any time are at risk. PC headsets are often based on hi-fi standards, rather than telecommunication standards. They are designed to produce excellent sound quality, leaving the user to select the volume. When listening to hi-fi, the user is expecting to hear the volume through the headset. When using VoIP (Voice over IP), unexpected tones, from the local PC or the VoIP package, can result in the user being given enough of a shock to make them jump. This ‘jump’ can be as damaging as excessive volume.
“Providers of such services – including Skype, Bulldog, Vonage - need to think about the guidance they offer to clients,” says Jenkins. “If you are promoting the use of a VoIP service, then you need to be aware of the ramifications beyond the great benefit of free, high quality calls. Cheap headsets can land a company in hot water as the hearing protection is sadly lacking. A PC soundcard can often push four watts of sound into a headset. This has the potential to cause temporary or permanent hearing damage."
Acoustic shock is preventable. European approved CE marked TELECOMS headsets have an in-built 118Decibel limiter. This can help to limit the overall volume, however 118dB is akin to listening to a jet take off whilst standing on the side of the runway. Other solutions have further sound reducing and shriek rejection circuits that can remove unwanted sound without touching the voice.
Further options exist to install telecoms grade equipment that reduce and actively monitor headset sound levels to make the possibility of any claim nearly non-existent, whilst storing the data needed to prove the case.
Employers have a legal duty under the Noise at Work Regulations and under EU legislation 2003/10/EC to reduce the risk of damage to an employee’s hearing. Although awareness of the problem is growing, employers are still facing litigation because of failure to comply. And with IP telephony becoming ever more popular among businesses the need for compliant headsets and/or other solutions is growing too.
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